Embracing uncertainty


I wouldn’t say I have a lot of certainty in my life. In fact I’m not sure I have any (no pun intended). This isn’t because my life is wild and unpredictable; it’s more of an inner attitude that recognises that change is present in every moment.

When I look back on it this has been a pattern for me. As a child I was never very confident or certain about things. I used to look at other boys who seemed so sure about life and so confident in themselves and I knew inside I wasn’t like that. I’m not sure where it started, perhaps it’s part of my nature, or perhaps it’s a result of my upbringing, but as an adult, I can now embrace this as being a huge benefit in my life and my spiritual practice.

As a kid it wasn’t fun being less confident, it made me easy prey for bigger, stronger individuals with a keen eye for a potential victim. I guess most people can say they’ve been bullied at some point in their childhood, and in that sense I’m not any different. It didn’t leave me with any lasting scars physically or emotionally. At least, that’s what I thought.

Recently I had an encounter with someone who treated me in a way I considered to be unfair. The material details aren’t really of any concern, I can see these clearly enough, but what did catch my attention was the strong emotional reaction this evoked. There was fear there, some anger and certainly the potential for upset. I normally lead a quiet and peaceful life, so where had all this suddenly come from?

It wasn’t clear and neither was it clear why I couldn’t just let it go. It reminded me of the times in my childhood when I’d been picked on, and it made me ask myself – have I ever actually let it go? I may have forgiven others at the time and since but was there more to it than that? These memories may be in the dim and distant past in one sense but in another, was that small boy, upset in the playground still in there somewhere?

What I love about meditation is giving this sort of question the space to become a more open inquiry. In insight meditation we use experiences like this as a trigger that let us investigate the nature of these feelings and attachments. It’s such a useful tool and employing it, this is what became clear:

The whole issue revolved around fear. Now I know there’s nothing wrong with fear per se, we all have it and we’re all supposed to have it, it’s part of being alive in an animal body. So it wasn’t as simple as aversion to the feelings of fear; there was something deeper happening. In insight meditation, although we use memory as the trigger, we then let that go and focus on the feeling. It’s the feeling that empowers the story and will keep it coming back. In other words the feeling is the clue to the attachment.

So using this technique what could now be seen was that sitting below the fear, was a level of really strong judgement. There was a part of me that hated being afraid; that hated being such a coward, not standing up for myself, not fighting my battles, not shouting back. Yes, there was fear there but there was also a lot of resistance to being so weak and afraid. And it was this judgement, not the fear itself that was the root of the attachment.

I find it’s often like this with insight meditation. When there are strong feelings present, they’re just there. We might initially think we have to change them or fix them or even get rid of them. But actually they’re there because they’re there. They’re perfectly normal and natural in and of themselves. Feelings arise and pass away, that’s a normal part of life. The real question is why do we consider them a problem? Why do we not want them? What is it about them that we judge to be wrong?


Image Eric Kilby, Embrace Sculpture

And this was what was happening in this case. There was a strong resentment based on a judgement of being the weak and afraid little boy in those memories. A judgement that left a legacy of over-sensitivity to any perceived form of bullying and reacted strongly when it appeared to show up. Powerful emotions would flare and thoughts would take on a circular characteristic repeating the same stories over and over, replaying memories and imagining future encounters, all feeding these feelings and increasing them.

The cycle had to stop somewhere and it stopped with the realisation that the frightened little boy inside didn’t need judgement, he needed unconditional love. That one simple realisation brought down a whole wall of stored up feelings and judgements.

The next bit of the meditation was easier, it was about embracing and accepting the frightened child and the frightened man. It was about loving this aspect of this human experience as much as any other. It was about seeing and accepting this as all perfectly natural and normal. So what if I’m not big and strong and brave? So what if I sometimes feel afraid? So what if I’ve never been much of a fighter? So what?

There’s such a power to just letting be that opens the heart. Such a power that comes with the radical acceptance of whatever we find inside at the deepest levels of our hearts and our consciousness. Suddenly seeing this put the situation in a whole different light. The mountain became a molehill again and there was laughter at how easily fooled we can be by the way things appear on the surface.

An open and accepting heart is a beautiful thing. It brings with it a clarity and a peace that money can’t buy. It creates a space in the moment where freedom opens up for us, and welcomes this; this moment, just as it is.

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